The Daily Gamecock

USC Exhibit displays Dickens classics

Charles Dickens’ children’s works are shown in the exhibit.
Charles Dickens’ children’s works are shown in the exhibit.

Rare editions of author’s works show his influence


Original, hand-colored illustrations and holiday-red hardcover bindings adorn first-edition copies of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol,” which sit encased inside the Hollings Special Collections Library.

Nearby, first-edition copies of four others of his Christmas-themed works accompany the colorful and prized title.

Steps away from the Christmas case, there is a well-kept, richly colored, hard-bound collection of Dickens’ complete works, one of just 877 sets of its kind, printed by Nonesuch Press in the 1930s. Produced in its time specifically for collectors, the 23-volume set includes hand-colored etchings to match the works’ original illustrations, as well as a block of an original engraved illustration plate.

Calculating the present-day value of the Nonesuch set, Jeffrey Makala, USC’s librarian for special collections instruction and outreach, had an pretty good estimate.

“It’d buy you a nice car,” Makala said.

Makala co-curated the current Hollings Library exhibit, “‘A Sort of Brilliance in the Room’: Two Centuries of Charles Dickens,” honoring the English novelist, editor, speaker and social activist, on display through the end of January 2013.

For the bicentennial anniversary of Dickens’ 1812 birth and in conjunction with the upcoming Christmas holiday, the exhibit is a display of the “best” and “most interesting or illustrative” pieces of Rare Books and Special Collections’ Dickens holdings, Makala said.

“The point is to show also that he was such an incredibly prolific person in so many different areas — writing, editing, speaking and lecturing, theater, as well as writing the novels that we normally think of him,” Makala said.

The exhibit features a fraction of the library’s collection of rare Dickens works, including first-edition complete sets of the author’s earliest pieces, “Sketches by ‘Boz’” and “The Pickwick Papers,” both published serially in the 1830s.

“This is the sort of things that drive collectors and librarians insane,” Makala said. “Only a handful of libraries have these.”

Cases also display first-edition copies of Dickens’ well-known novels, including the original serial publications and complete bindings of works like “David Copperfield” and “Oliver Twist.”

The display boasts the first six installments of Dickens’ final novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” which was left unfinished when he died in 1870.

Makala said there’s a “curious phenomenon” surrounding “Drood” — Dickens died without leaving any sort of sketch of how the mystery was to end, though other authors attempted to “take up the mantle and try to complete the book.”

One attempt at completing the novel is also on display, an 1873 publication by T.P. James, which the author said was posthumously dictated to him by Dickens through a medium.

The display as a whole trumpets the pervasive influence of Dickens in English and literary society, Makala said.

“There’s something universal about Dickens. What’s interesting to me about him then is what’s interesting to us now about him — he had this great empathy for people,” Makala said. “We don’t need to resuscitate him. We need to commemorate and celebrate him, and that’s what the exhibit’s meant to do.”

The exhibit is available for viewing in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.